Costs of self-publishing: What you’ll pay for

Self-publishing always sounds appealing: It’s a quick way to get your book in print, you don’t have to deal with literary agents, editors and publishers who want to rewrite your book so it fits their idea of marketability, and you almost certainly will reap a higher percentage of profits from your book sale.

The downside, though, is that you’ll need to do a lot of the work that your book publisher would handle for you. That means you’ll be putting in a lot of extra time – and may not even have the skills to complete some of the tasks.

Here’s a quick rundown of the potential costs of self-publishing:
• Editing and proofreading – You’ll always want someone else to read your work for you (full disclosure: I offer such a service). A second eye will spot typos and content problems that you missed because as a writer you’re too close to the book. Self-publishing houses do offer editing and proofreading services, but you’ll be able to find less expensive and typically more personal service through an independent, freelance editor.
• Typesetting/formatting the book – Books can by formatted in Microsoft Word, but most will find it a time-consuming and frustrating process. For a more professional appearance, you’ll want to format the book in a software program like InDesign or Quark Express. If you don’t have such programs, you’ll need to find a designer. Many self-publishing houses do offer such services, but again, an independent freelance contractor almost certainly is less expensive.
• Book cover – Self-publishing houses do offer book cover designs that you do right online at no cost. Such covers, however, tend to look bland and like dozens of other self-published books. Again, seek an independent freelance contractor if you do not have the skills or the software to create your own cover.
• Publishing house – To get attention from the mainstream press, you’ll want to create your own publishing house. Newspapers and magazines that write book reviews or stories about them generally eschew any title from a self-publisher (which is who your publisher will be unless you create your own publishing house). Creating your own publishing house is fairly simple at first – just purchase your own ISBN. If you don’t go that route, your self-publisher handles the ISBN for you (and hence becomes the publisher). Later, as you begin to make a profit from your book and print additional titles, you’ll need to file the appropriate documents with your state and possibly city to affirm that you are an established business.
• Printing – You will pay some kind of fee to be a “member” at your chosen self-publisher or to receive initial copies of your printed book that you must review and then okay before the book will be available for sale. The more work you do upfront so that you don’t have to make editing changes once your initial print run occurs, the lower this expense will be.
• Marketing – Self-publishing houses tout that they will market your book, but that usually just means that they give you some online channels to post your book. That’s useful (especially if your book gets a page on, but you still need to write and send press releases, arrange your own book readings/signings, and create your own website/blog. You can do all of that on your own for the just cost of time, but you may want a freelance writer with public relations or marketing experience to write the text for your press release and website, and possibly even a website designer.

How much will all of this cost you? For my first self-published book, I spent less than $400, primarily for a website, to buy my own ISBN (I created my own publishing house), and to pay for that initial run. Everything else I did myself – which as a long-time journalist who wrote for, designed and edited newspapers and magazines was a cinch. Contract all of this labor out, however, and your costs could run from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars. Your best bet is to shop around for services, do as much of it as you can on your own, and cut corners – for example, you probably can initially get away with just a blog rather than building a website.